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February 28, 2008

Saffron (Recipe: lamb tagine with prunes and apricots) {gluten-free}


In numerology, three can be lucky or unlucky.

Bad luck comes in threes, they say, but the third time's a charm.

For saffron, three is an auspicious number -- the number of stigmas, what we recognize as saffron threads, in each crocus flower.

Only three. Which is why it takes more than 70,000 flowers to yield one pound of saffron. Which is why saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

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February 21, 2008

Cowboy ketchup (Recipe: Southwestern spicy pulled pork)


I'm not really a cowboy kind of gal.

Neither the films of John Wayne nor the books of Louis L'Amour do much for me. Ask me the difference between a lasso and a lariat, and I'll have to check my dictionary.

So, when I tell you that if -- when -- you visit Oklahoma City, you absolutely, positively, must get yourself to the National Cowboy Museum, you'll know that this is one seriously cool place. The size of a football field, the museum greets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with galleries specializing in the rodeo, art and sculpture, history, cowboy clothing and equipment, and music. There's even a library of barbed wire styles.

It's a spectacular and comprehensive museum, yet there's one thing missing.

Cowboy ketchup.

In the great tradition of cowboy storytellers, I'd love to spin a yarn about this amazing condiment, how it was invented by accident, when stampeding buffalo kicked over bottles of ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce, and all happened to land in the same pot of beans cooking slowly over a campfire.

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December 17, 2006

Bay leaves (Recipe: bay leaf crusted pork roast)


If it weren't for Apollo, and his frustrated libido, there would be no bay leaves in The Perfect Pantry.

According to mythology, Cupid, taunted by Apollo for childish behavior, exacted revenge by drawing from his quiver two arrows — a golden one for love, and a leaden one to repel love. He aimed the golden arrow at Apollo, and the other at the nymph Daphne, beautiful daughter of the river god Peneus.

Struck by Cupid's dart, Apollo lusted after Daphne, who, thanks to Cupid's trickery, couldn't stand the sight of any man and so made her father promise never to force her to marry. Apollo's desire drove him to pursue the nymph; he chased her, running faster and faster, threatening to overtake. And just when she was within his grasp, she called on her father: "Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger."

Immediately, her body became stiff and encased in bark, her hair turned to leaves, her feet to roots. Peneus had kept his word, and changed her into a bay laurel tree. Apollo — distraught, bewitched, and besotted — decreed that the leaves of the bay laurel would remain forever green. He wove leaves into a crown and wore it always; thus, a crown of bay leaves became a symbol of honor. And in honor of Apollo, laurel wreaths were presented to the victors at the first Olympics in 776 B.C., and they are given to marathon winners to this day.

Poor Apollo, but lucky us.

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October 29, 2006

Oregano (Recipe: posole)


In the 1960s, I was in high school, and I was cool.

I had long hair, bell-bottom pants, love beads. I listened to Phil Ochs, played guitar, marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. I edited the school newspaper, where I published Lawrence Ferlinghetti poems and artsy photos of trees. On Saturdays, I worked at a "real" job on the city's big-time newspaper, where I learned to write obituaries and a consumer help column ("My clothes dryer exploded and the store where I bought it won't take it back. Can you help?").

And I smoked oregano. Once.

A friend gave it to me as a joke, and we decided to try it. (I admit that I tried the other stuff, too, and yes, I inhaled.)

If I'd been a cook, instead of a trying-to-be-hip high school kid, I would have put that oregano to much better use.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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